Stefanie Tschirky: fashion’s new ‘Renaissance’ designer?
Words Lilah Francis
It is not often that you hear of creatives enjoying maths, science and logical subjects. Stefanie, now in her second year at the Royal College of Art, is an exception. She questions and expands theories of beauty and mathematics through her garments, which are the result of interactive, interdisciplinary and collaborative research. Just before the annual Work In Progress show at the RCA, we spoke with her about her background, creative approach and her experience of the college.
Photographer: Simone Steenberg, Model: Maria Chroni, Hair: Britta Tess, Make up: Porsche Poon
Whereabouts are you from?
I am from a small village called Heiligkreuz, in the eastern part of Switzerland, surrounded by beautiful mountains. It impacted me a lot and I grew up playing in the nature, as opposed to watching TV all day. It was about being outdoors: building things with what we found, being both active and creative. This is the reason that I am now a really practical person; I always have to make things in 3D to get my ideas out of my system.
We previously spoke about the Swiss education system being a big part of your outlook. Can you talk more about this?
When I went to school in Switzerland, the education focussed on science and economics. It made me a very logical, mathematical and 3 dimensional thinker. I see everything in numbers, lines and patterns. Art and design weren’t important subjects at school and there was not a lot of support. I am not at all from an artistic background. My interest in creative subjects was a natural development of how my parents raised me, allowing me to be whoever I wanted to be, and to do what ever I loved. When I first came to London, I struggled during my foundation course. Everyone had such developed skills compared to mine, but at the same time I had a bigger knowledge of science, and this influenced my work. I began to explore and develop my design language, inspired by science.
You collaborated with students from the Imperial College, what did you do?
I questioned if we are able to create the ‘perfect’ dress, silhouette and line with the help of science. So I started to look into theories such as the Golden Ratio Theory and the Chaos Theory, finding perfection in chaos. It led me to have many conversations with Maths and Physics students from the Imperial College London, as we questioned perfection and beauty and its meanings in science and art.
What is your idea of perfection?
I stop saying the word perfection. What does it even mean? Does perfection exist? No? If perfection doesn’t exist, does imperfection exist?
When did your obsession with lines begin?
Ever since I can remember, lines have fascinated me and I can’t handle it if they are not in the right place! I can spend days to find the right placement, the right thickness and the right dimensions.
Music is vital in your work, tell me more about how you created your own music and about the singer you have collaborated with?
I have monthly meetings with a classical singer from the Royal Academy of Music: we have conversations about my world, my work, my vision, beauty and mathematical theories. We sit together in a room in which I did an installation, and I let her give my work a voice — creating another dimension. At the same time, the mathematicians from the Imperial College develop music based on the theories we use to generate the research. In the end, we are going to let the singer and computer have an improvised, chaotic conversation in a performance piece. Finding people with the same language and vision is so exciting and inspiring: it opens up a completely new world, filled with new knowledge and aspirations, and this gives me the chance to push my work further.
How important is the presentation of your work?
The presentation is of great importance, it is another stage of my design process and a way of communicating my vision. Through the performance and installation, I let the consumer have a glimpse into my world with all their senses and emotions. The performance is a part of my fashion and fashion is a part of the performance; in my work they need each other to exist.
Who are you currently inspired by?
At the moment I am obsessed with Bill Viola’s work and the book ‘Chaos, Making New Science’ by James Gleick.
What are you working on at the moment?
My final collection and a performance piece based on a mathematical theory, for the Work in Progress show next week.
When we met in December, you said that you like to directly mould on the body. Could you tell me more about your process?
In my first year at the RCA, I developed different techniques that allowed me to work directly on the body. These techniques let me really focus on the body, the wearer and the customization of the garments. This way of working has definitely influenced my final collection, which further develops these techniques.
What’s the best thing about studying at the RCA?
To have the freedom of being who you want to be. Being pushed to your limits and being questioned all the time.
Do you have any ideas about what you would like to do after the RCA?
Let’s see what the future holds for me! I definitely would like to keep my research as an ongoing project, which might lead to a PhD.
In the future, would you like to establish your own brand or work for a designer?
If I have the chance, I would establish my own brand one day.
What annoys you most about the fashion system?
There are things that annoy me, but I don’t have to be a part of that system, and I don’t have to let it influence my work.
Photographer: Wilbert Lati, Model: Holly @ FM Models, Hair and Make up: Britta Tess
How do you like living in London?
London is the complete opposite of my hometown, for which I love it. I adore the diversity, the freedom, and the cultures which contrast to Switzerland.
Where is your favourite place to go in London?
The Royal College of Art. I love to spend my time in the bar, the café, the studio and the workshops. The creativity, the people and the atmosphere at this school makes it the most inspiring place for me.
What’s your idea of a good day out? And how do you like to spend your time out of school?
I tend to be 24/7 at University, so it doesn’t happen a lot, but I like to be around people and have good conversations over some good food. I would go to galleries, walk around London, and end up on a dance floor somewhere in East London.
How would your friends describe you?
This is what they said:
Jessica: Dedicated, Decisive, Architecture-lover
Amanda: Dedicated, Energetic, Obsessed with lines
Sophie: Dedicated, Positive and always smiling
What’s your favourite object?
At the moment it’s a silver metal ruler that I use to create my final collection’s textiles.
And what do you think is one of the most underrated pieces of design?
Mathematics. It’s art in its own right.